Monday, September 5, 2011

Monster-Mania Memories

August 19-21 was one of those weekends that I knew was going to be a great time for me – as well as the still-living members of my family – since it meant making yet another trek to my Grave Away From Grave, the Crowne-Plaza in Cherry Hill, NJ, for another fiendishly fun MONSTER-MANIA convention, where lovers of All Things Scary gather to mingle, meet our favorite horror (and a few SF) personalities, and gleefully part with more of our hard-earned money than we usually care to think about.

This time going in I was most excited about chatting with Lance Henriksen – my enthusiasm not at all dampened, but actually intensified, by the fact that I had already met him at Monster-Mania a couple of years ago. Following some advice from the MM discussion forum, I made sure (still-living) Son #1 and I sought him out shortly after arriving on Friday evening, to score a personalized copy of his recently published autobiography, NOT BAD FOR A HUMAN. Once again, Lance's warm, unassuming and good-humored nature made the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him a rewarding and memorable experience – and demanded a second stop at his table on Saturday, when my entire family was present. Lance quintessentially exemplifies the best of my convention experiences: When a celebrity whose work I admire is kind to my children, and takes time to talk with them and make them feel special. I'm so glad to get to see him again in less than two months, at Rock and Shock!
Lance, with GuidanceGhoul and Son #1

Speaking of celebrities who are awesome to my children, the other major highlight of MM19 was meeting Nathan Baesal, titular slasher of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON. A true gentleman, Nathan and his wife were extremely kind to my boys and me, Nathan praising Son #1 for his insights into the film. Any uninitiated among you who have not yet seen this truly intelligent, self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek-without-crossing-the-line-into-parody slasher film need to stop reading, acquire and take in this movie now – use the convenient link to the left; I'll wait. Okay, good. As we must now all agree, a horror film that good and smart is one that truly deserves a sequel; yet in a prime example of cosmic injustice, studios are inexplicably not tripping over each other to throw dollars at a Part II. A script for BEFORE THE MASK: THE RETURN OF LESLIE VERNON has been written, and word is it's great – but to see it make that magical page-to-screen transition, the project needs money. Toward that end, Nathan himself pocketed nothing of from his day at Monster-Mania, opting instead to donate 100% of his autograph earnings help fund the sequel. Are you inspired? Good. To find out how you can be a part of making this deserving film a cinematic reality, go and "like" its Facebook page page and click on Support B4TM. For an extremely reasonable donation you are actually pre-ordering an exclusive, donors-only edition Blu-Ray or DVD of the film. How cool will you feel one day as you screen it at home, proudly announcing to your friends that you actually helped get it made?  (Anyone who isn't impressed probably shouldn't be your friend.)
Nathan aka Leslie Vernon, with three masked proteges

Other great experiences, memorable moments and other bits of coolness from Monster-Mania 19:
  • Kristy Jett, with GuidanceGhoul
    Going out for pizza on Friday night with and Ben Scrivens and Kristy Jett, our good fiends from Fright-Rags, makers and sellers of the coolest horror t-shirts a ghoul can pull over his rotting torso. In the three years I've known her, Kristy has become an increasingly prominent figure in the horror fan community, with bylines in FANGORIA, HORRORHOUND and other publications, and originator and organizer of movement to give POPCORN a proper DVD release.

  • Seeing the aforementioned Kristy Jett moderate the aforementioned Nathan Baesal's Q&A session. It was Kristy who actually arranged Nathan's coming to MM19. It was his first time appearing as a guest at a convention, and Kristy's first time as a Q&A moderator. Both did a kick-ass job.

  • Having Erin Gray give Son #1 a free autograph for being a polite, well-mannered kid.

  • Having a toy vendor give Son #2 a free toy (Predator Hound action figure) for basically the same reason.

  • Scoring a British Blu-Ray of PHENOMENA, my personal favorite of Dario Argento's films – and sadly not yet released on BR in the North America. This is one of those lavish packages – loaded with extras, both tangible and on the disc – that put American releases to shame. For anyone not in the know (as I was not, until recently), Blu-Ray discs are happily all region-free, so have no fear of searching overseas to fill those gaping, bleeding holes in your collection.

  • Roxsy, with the (still-living)
    Sons of GuidanceGhoul
    Seeing the hauntingly adorable Roxsy Tyler (of ROXSY TYLER'S CARNIVAL OF HORRORS) again, and having her give my boys custody of a really nice midnight-blue teddy bear from her personal collection.

  • One of the boys said "Candyman"
    five times into the hotel room mirror.
    Chatting with Tony Todd about the upcoming SUSHI GIRL – one film I really wish I didn't have to wait until next year to see.

  • Ghostbuster Ernie,
    with the GuidanceGhoul Family
    Getting a picture with Ernie Hudson, in a Ghostbuster outfit. It's the first time I've ever seen a celebrity dress in character at a convention – an unexpected treat.

  • Boys find out that some zombies
    are a lot cuter than their father.
    Meeting the extremely lovely and charming young (11-year-old) actress Addy Miller, Little Girl Zombie of THE WALKING DEAD's first season.

  • Meeting John Squires, writer of this ghoul's favorite horror blog, FREDDY IN SPACE – an outstanding daily (!) blog and a really nice guy. I wish I had gotten a picture with him, but my camera was up in the room when we finally got to talk, in the wee hours of Sunday morning in the hotel lobby.

  • Danielle, with GuidanceGhoul and sons
    Meeting the beautiful Danielle Harris, who rearranged shooting plans to be able to attend this convention. A true class act, she does not charge her under-18 fans for autographs, meaning that my boys got a free signed picture and I felt even better about paying for mine.

  • Shawn of Warfear, with two
    Sons of GuidanceGhoul.
    Having Shawn, lead singer of NYC-based horror-metal band WARFEAR, praise Son #1 for his knowledge of Italian horror cinema. WARFEAR's subject matter is right up this blogger's undead alley: The first two EP's are inspired by LEFT 4 DEAD and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, respectively. Shawn was giving away both EP's on one CD in the vendor's room – very cool.

This is far from a comprehensive list of positive experiences and pleasant memories from this convention, but I'd better wrap it up, get it posted and move on. I'll just finish by saying that this Monster-Mania ended for me the same as do all of them in Cherry Hill – with reserving my room for the next one! Doing so takes some of the ache out of bidding another farewell to all the fiends, freaks and fun for all those long, lonely months until the madness descends on southern Jersey once again. See you in March 2012, Monster-Mania! It will be a long wait, but, as always, you will be worth it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: ROT & RUIN, by Jonathan Maberry

I wanted my first review here to be a positive one.  As it turns out, this one is more than positive; it’s glowing like my radioactive zombie brethren.

ROT & RUIN, by Jonathan Maberry, is described as a coming-of-age story, set in a post-zombie-apocalypse world.  From the time of the narrative, the dead started rising – and, of course, feeding on the living – fourteen years ago.  On that First Night, protagonist (comer-of-age) Benny Imura was only a baby.  In the world in which Benny has grown up, most of humanity’s few survivors live in fenced-in, fortified communities, technology has largely been abandoned (to the point where long-distance communication does not exist), and nobody talks very much about life before First Night.  Now fifteen, according to the laws of this new society, Benny must take on a job, and begins with no small reluctance to work with his much-older brother, Tom, who has raised Benny – in a mostly strained, tense dynamic – since First Night, in the “family business”:  Taking contracts from living relatives of zombies to “quiet” their undead loved ones.  Benny and Tom’s relationship is central to the story, character development and theme of the novel.

For those among you who like to categorize (and what healthy – or unhealthy – horror geek doesn't?), these are slow-moving, Romero-esque zombies.  The novel could actually work very nicely as an extension of the Romero mythology, intelligently exploring the what-ifs of the years following a global zombie outbreak.  As in Uncle George’s films, all recently deceased humans “come back,” not just those infected by existing zombies (although a bite from one is a quick one-way ticket to join the rotting ranks).  Also in the Romero tradition, almost no time is spent on the whys behind the problem:  At one or two points a character may mention a couple of speculative hypotheses about why one day the dead just started reanimating and eating the living, but none of this is important to the story.  Like the best of Romero’s work, this is a story about people:  About people struggling to survive and find some new sense of normalcy in the midst of a bizarre, horrible and previously unthinkable set of circumstances.  In such a situation, some ordinary, imperfect humans will find themselves rising to their greatest heights.  Others will sink to the lowest, slimiest depths imaginable.  Again, in keeping with the Romero tradition, the villains are not the hapless living dead.  The true monsters in the story are living humans, taking selfish, sociopathic advantage of a bad situation, in order to dominate and exploit their fellow humans in the most hideous possible ways.  The bounty hunters of ROT & RUIN, led by the hateful-beyond-words Charlie Pinkeye, make DAWN OF THE DEAD’s biker gang seem like a bunch of fun-loving schoolboys.

As I look over what these rotting fingers have typed thus far, I just want to point out that all of these comparisons and relations to Romero should in NO way imply that this is a unoriginal piece of fiction.  Far from it.  This is a powerful work which, while informed and inspired by what has come before, transcends its subgenre and takes its characters – and readers – through the emotional valleys and peaks of the human experience, from the agonies of loss, old wounds and family tension to the heart-soaring sublimeness of a teenager's first kiss.  (Before anyone cries spoiler, among the many kudos already heaped on this novel is one which celebrates that specific moment.)

Also, to any of you wizened, jaded, hardcorer-than-thou horror fiends who might be concerned about this book's designation as a YA novel, don't worry:  While it can be safely recommended to teen readers, there is nothing fluffy, dumbed down or fad-chasing in sight here – nothing sparkles, except the compelling story, character development and good old-fashioned literary style.  The only thing that could differentiate this from a work of “adult” fiction is the absence of explicit sex (and really, since the male and female leads are fifteen, I hope that's not a disappointment to anyone).

Lastly, for any naysayers commenting on this review's apparent lack of timeliness, there is a madness to my method (or something like that):  The novel's first sequel, DUST & DECAY, shambles into finer bookstores at the end of this month.  The coolest ghouls who haven't done so already will want to grab up and and devour R&R now, and thus be ready in time for D&D's release.  Any still-living fans who are fearful of venturing out of doors, lest the zombie apocalypse strike at any moment, can order one and preorder the other from Amazon, and wait safely in a locked and fortified house for the postman to brave the undead horde and deliver them to your doorstep.

Unless he's zombie, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Clawing to the surface….

For the better part of a year now, I’ve been contemplating starting this blog.  Obstacles always seemed to be blocking me.  First there was the lid of my coffin.  Once I clawed my way through that (fortunately my family economized and went for corrugated cardboard), there was the six feet of dirt, and all the damn rocks.  Oh, and the self-doubts.

The plethora of horror blogs – many of them very polished and professional-looking – already bleeding all over cyberspace, often made me wonder what I could offer that wasn’t already available several times over.  And these other bloggers are often so … encyclopedic in their horror knowledge, and I’m just some ghoul who likes scary things.

And then I thought (okay, after a lot of encouragement from my still-living wife, and a really good friend), who the hell cares?  I’m not an expert, an insider, or a horror historian, but I am, well, some ghoul who loves scary things.  Besides watching them, reading them, listening to them and playing them, I also really enjoy talking about them with other creatures who share the love.

And that’s what I plan to do here.  There will be reviews of movies (once and a while maybe even a fairly new one), of books, of comics, of music, of games.  There will also be general thoughts and ponderings – whatever drips out of my rotting brain – about our favorite genre.  There may even be guest appearances by family members and friends (or dismembers and fiends; I’m never sure about that).  As long as there’s something monstrous or macabre about it, I’m on it like … well, like an undead ghoul on a paramedic.

So I’ve reached ground level, and the Counselor of the Dead's office is open – for Horror Business.  Come on in, and I’ll guide you to some cool stuff (read, stuff I like) that you might otherwise overlook.  I welcome constructive comments and encouraging words (and if all you have is destructive and / or discouraging, I promise to take that as much more about your sad life than anything to do with me).

Stay tombed….

This entry is dedicated to my dear friend Kristy Jett, who told me quit making excuses and start the damn blog already.